Dr Sarah Cassidy, a post-doctoral researcher in the Research Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement at Coventry University, has published the first large scale clinic study to explore suicide in adults with Asperger Syndrome, in the Lancet Psychiatry . Sarah Cassidy led the research with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen at the Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University, in collaboration with the Cambridge Lifetime Asperger Syndrome Service (CLASS), run by Cambridge and Peterborough Foundation NHS Trust.
Autism spectrum conditions are a group of developmental brain conditions that cause difficulties in communication and social interaction, alongside the presence of unusually narrow interests and difficulties in adapting to change. In Asperger Syndrome, people show the key symptoms but without delayed language or intellectual disability. Adults with Asperger Syndrome experience many risk factors for depression and suicide, including lack of support services, poor health outcomes, social exclusion, under-achievement, and unemployment. However, although Asperger Syndrome has been associated with high rates of depression, Sarah Cassidy and colleagues found only one small scale study which explored suicidal thoughts and behaviours in adults with Asperger Syndrome.
The study published in the Lancet Psychiatry revealed a significantly higher rate of suicidal ideation among adults diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (66%), compared with the rate found in the general population (17%), and patients with psychosis (59%). A third (35%) of adults diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome had also planned or attempted suicide during their lifetime. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours were significantly more common in adults with Asperger Syndrome and a history of depression. A second risk factor for suicide plans or attempts was a higher level of autistic traits.
Sarah Cassidy said “Our findings confirm anecdotal reports that adults with Asperger Syndrome have a significantly higher risk of suicide in comparison to other clinical groups, and that depression is a key risk factor in this. This risk is preventable with the appropriate support, and demonstrates the need for high quality services for these individuals.”